Last week, the buzz in the media was about the media. Dramatic changes are on the anvil and journalists, forever self-absorbed, have gone into overdrive dissecting reports, sharing gossip, fuelling rumours about all this and more.
At one end is the prospect of the first foreign investment in a newspaper since the government opened up the sector last year. At the other is the probability of an Indian media company becoming Star’s “dominant” partner, as decreed by the government’s new policy guidelines for news channels with foreign shareholding.
So, should readers and viewers bother' Not really. Not unless the content changes and these days that really has little to do with changes at the very top. Citizen Kane is not an image we can relate to anymore.
Newspapers and television channels do change, with or without a change of owners. Star News went Hindi and more Bollywood without the benefit of a “dominant Indian partner”. It even promised to “promote the interests” of the Indian armed forces before it Indianized in letter or spirit.
Hindustan Times, long known as the only English newspaper written in Punjabi, went upmarket well before there was any talk of an Australian finance company buying up 20 per cent of its equity. In fact, the image makeover took place even while the paper lobbied hard to prevent the entry of foreign investment in the print media.
Media moguls with private political agendas is a vanishing species — here, there and everywhere. Today they all have one mantra: give readers and viewers what they want. To them figures are all, ideology nothing. Next to them, Citizen Kane would appear a distinct underachiever.
Off the rails
Tully sahib is on home leave so it was not possible to put the question to him directly. Did he uncover anything in his documentary Hindu Nation, shown on BBC World last weekend, that he didn’t already know' Did he even need to swing through vast swathes of the country — from Gujarat to Kerala to Madhya Pradesh and back to New Delhi — in the summer heat to find out why Hindu nationalism is flourishing'
The conclusion was nothing new. The deeply religious Mark Tully, still known as the BBC’s “voice of India”, has been saying it for years now: religion must be made a part of the body politic of the country of his birth. “That is Indian, not godless Western secularism.”
In his 50-minute film, Sir Mark has found a lot of people — from a Christian priest, a Muslim minister, a Congress chief minister to the BJP deputy prime minister — to echo his views. He did not find a single voice who said otherwise. Hardly the “investigation” the BBC is billing it as.
The motion at the Calcutta Club debate earlier this year was “Religion has derailed democracy in India”. Rather, Tully had countered, it is politics that has derailed religion. But, has religion derailed the journalist'
Running away with it
Competition is great, but is it good' Look what happened with the Mumbai blasts which the Indian media treated like a 9/11 redux, a poor man’s 9/11 no doubt. And TV news channels especially fell flat on their face. So keen is the competition between the channels, so desperate the need to be first with the news, that TV reporters ran with unconfirmed reports, adding to the spiralling panic that gripped the city on Monday.
Six blasts, then four, finally two. Explosions in Marine Drive, Andheri, Nariman Point, the BMC headquarter. The CST railway station, the main terminus of the Central Railway, partly blown off due to the blast at BMC headquaters opposite. Television reported these rumours, paralysing the Mumbaikar who didn’t know where to turn.
Here is a prediction: in less than two weeks, newspapers and televisions across the world will be awash in remembrances of 9/11, and the most frequently asked question will be: are we safer' The Indian media will mainly reproduce stuff from foreign agencies.